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I Am that I Am

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The Hebrew text with niqqud

"I Am that I Am" is a common English translation of the Hebrew phrase אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה‎‎ (’ehye ’ăšer ’ehye; pronounced [ʔehˈje ʔaˈʃer ʔehˈje])– also "I am who (I) am", "I will become what I choose to become", "I am what I am", "I will be what I will be", "I create what(ever) I create", or "I am the Existing One".[1]

Etymology[edit]

אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה‎ (’ehye ’ăšer ’ehye) is the first of three responses given to Moses when he asks for God's name in the Book of Exodus.[2] The word אֶהְיֶה‎ (’Ehyeh) is the first person singular imperfective form of הָיָה (hayah), 'to be', and owing to the peculiarities of Hebrew grammar means 'I am' and 'I will be'.[3] The meaning of the longer phrase ’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh is debated, and might be seen as a promise ('I will be with you') or as statement of incomparability ('I am without equal').[4]

Biblical Hebrew did not distinguish between grammatical tenses. It instead had an aspectual system in which the perfect denoted any actions that have been completed, and imperfect denoted any actions that are not yet completed.[5][6][7] Additionally, if a verb form was prefixed by וַ־ (wa-), its aspect was inverted; a verb conjugated in the imperfect and prefixed by וַ־‎ would read as the perfect, while a verb conjugated in the perfect and prefixed by וַ־‎ would read as the imperfect. The word אֶהְיֶה‎ (ehyeh) is the first-person singular imperfect form of hayah, 'to be', which in Modern Hebrew indicates the future tense 'I will be'; however, it lacks the prefix וַ־‎ which would necessitate this reading in Biblical Hebrew. It therefore may be translated as 'I am', but also as a modal form such as 'I may be', 'I would be', 'I could be', etc. Accordingly, the whole phrase can be rendered in English not only as 'I am that I am' but also as 'I will be what I will be' or 'I will be who I will be', or 'I shall prove to be whatsoever I shall prove to be' or even 'I will be because I will be'. Other renderings include: Leeser, 'I Will Be that I Will Be'; Rotherham, 'I Will Become whatsoever I please', Greek, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (Ego eimi ho on), 'I am The Being' in the Septuagint,[8] and Philo,[9][10] and the Book of Revelation[11] or, 'I am The Existing One'; Latin, ego sum qui sum, 'I am Who I am'.

The word אֲשֶׁר‎ (’ăšer) is a relative pronoun whose meaning depends on the immediate context, therefore 'that', 'who', 'which', or 'where' are all possible translations of that word.[12]

An application of this phrase used in the New Testament has "But by the grace of God I am what I am ..." (1 Corinthians 15:10). [citation needed]

Interpretation[edit]

According to the Hebrew Bible, in the encounter of the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), Moses asks what he is to say to the Israelites when they ask what gods ('Elohiym) have sent him to them, and YHWH replies, "I am who I am", adding, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you.'"[4] Despite this exchange, the Israelites are never written to have asked Moses for the name of God.[13] Then there are a number of probably unanswerable questions, including who it is that does not know God's name, Moses or the Israelites (most commentators take it that it is Moses who does not know, meaning that the Israelites will ask him the name in order to prove his credentials), and just what the statement means.[13]

The last can be approached in three ways:

  • "I am who I am" – an evasion of Moses' question;[14]
  • "I am who am" or "I am he who is" – a statement of the nature of Israel's God. Scholars believe it refers to God's eternal nature, which is common in ancient Near Eastern cultures and not restricted to Hellenistic philosophy. However, it might be a reaction to the motif of gods arbitrarily disappearing in Canaanite mythology;[15]
  • "'I Am' is who I am", or "I am because I am" – this version has not played a major part in scholarly discussion of the phrase, but the first variant has been incorporated into the New English Bible.[16]

Roman Catholicism[edit]

St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctors of the Church, identified the Being of Exodus 3:14 with the Esse ipsum subsistens, who is God Himself, and, in metaphysics, the Being in the strong or intensive sense in whom one has all the determinations of every being in their highest degree of perfection. Therefore, this Being is actuality of every actuality (or pure Act) and perfection of all perfections. In Him, solely essence and existence (in Latin: Actus essendi) are identified. While St. Augustine had a general intuition of Him, His philosophical formulation came only with St. Thomas.[17][18]

Other views[edit]

In the Hindu Advaita Vedanta, the South Indian sage Ramana Maharshi mentions that of all the definitions of God, "none is indeed so well put as the biblical statement 'I am that I am'". He maintained that although Hindu scripture contains similar statements, the Mahavakyas, these are not as direct as given in Exodus.[19] Further the "I am" is explained by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj as an abstraction in the mind of the Stateless State, of the Absolute, or the Supreme Reality, called Parabrahman: it is pure awareness, prior to thoughts, free from perceptions, associations, memories. Parabrahman is often considered to be a cognate term for the Supreme Being in Hinduism.

Victor P. Hamilton suggests "some legitimate translations ..: (1) 'I am who I am'; (2) 'I am who I was'; (3) 'I am who I shall be'; (4) 'I was who I am'; (5) 'I was who I was'; (6) 'I was who I shall be'; (7) 'I shall be who I am'; (8) 'I shall be who I was'; (9) 'I shall be who I shall be'."[20]

The Bahá'í Faith reference to "I Am" can be found in on page 316 of The Dawn-Breakers:[21]

"I am," thrice exclaimed the Báb, "I am, I am, the promised One! I am the One whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at whose mention you have risen, whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten. Verily I say, it is incumbent upon the peoples of both the East and the West to obey My word and to pledge allegiance to My person."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stone 2000, p. 624.
  2. ^ Exod. 3:14.
  3. ^ Parke-Taylor 1975, p. 51.
  4. ^ a b Van der Toorn 1999, p. 913.
  5. ^ Hebrew, Biblical. "Hebrew Tenses | Biblical Hebrew".
  6. ^ Hebrew Tenses[dead link]
  7. ^ "Biblical Hebrew Grammar do Beginners" (PDF).
  8. ^ "Exodus 3:14 LXX". Bibledatabase.net. Archived from the original on 2011-08-10. Retrieved 2014-05-21.
  9. ^ Yonge. Philo Life Of Moses, Vol.1: 75.
  10. ^ Life of Moses, vol. I: 75, Life of Moses vol. II: 67, 99, 132, 161 in F. H. Colson Philo Works Vol. VI, Loeb Classics, Harvard University 1941.
  11. ^ Rev. 1:4, 1:8. 4:8 UBS Greek Text Ed. 4.
  12. ^ Seidner, 4.[full citation needed]
  13. ^ a b Hamilton 2011, p. 63.
  14. ^ Hayes.
  15. ^ Lewis, Thedore J. (2020). The Origin and Character of God: Ancient Israelite Religion through the Lens of Divinity. Oxford University Press. pp. 209–286. ISBN 9780190072575.
  16. ^ Mettinger 2005, pp. 33–34.
  17. ^ Father Battista Mondin, O.P. (2022). Ontologia e metafisica [Ontology and metaphysics]. Filosofia (in Italian) (3rd ed.). Edizioni Studio Domenicano. p. 104. ISBN 978-88-5545-053-9.
  18. ^ In Summa Theologiae, I.13.11: "God revealed his name to Moses as HE WHO IS. And this is a most appropriate name inasmuch as it derives not from any particular form but from existence itself [ipsum esse], and its manner of expression does not as other names do delimit God's substance, and represents God's existence in the present tense as knowing neither past nor future." As quoted in ""I AM WHO I AM": Thomas Aquinas and the Metaphysics of the Exodus". Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  19. ^ Talks with Ramana Maharshi, Talk 106, 29 November 1935
  20. ^ Hamilton 2011, p. 64.
  21. ^ Nabíl. The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation. Bahá'í International Community. Retrieved 27 July 2022 – via Bahá'í Reference Library.

Bibliography[edit]

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